The story is not whether Trump's 'execution' remark is incendiary, but whether it is true
CNN reported yesterday that President Trump had “made an incendiary remark at a rally Saturday night.” Trump had criticized the Democratic Governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evershe, for vowing to “veto legislation that protects Wisconsin babies born alive.” But the president’s greatest offense was that he used the word “execute” to describe what Governor Ralph Northam defended this past February, namely that mothers and doctors should have the right to confer, and choose whether a baby born with deformities should be permitted to live or die.
CNN asserts that Trump’s claim was false. As proof, they actually quote Governor Northam’s remarks:
Northam told Washington radio station WTOP in January: “[Third trimester abortions are] done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s nonviable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen.”
“The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon, said.
Trump is certainly capable of making incendiary remarks, but here what CNN calls incendiary is President Trump simply repeating, albeit in his own inimitable style, the very position of Governor Ralph Northam.
Even in their own reporting, the journalists acknowledge that Governor Northam had said that mothers have this right to let their newborn infants die. But we are told in no uncertain terms that “letting the newborn infant die” should never be called “execution.” That’s “incendiary.”
I am inclined to agree with CNN that execution is the wrong word. An “execution” implies that someone has been charged with committing a crime. Innocent until proven guilty, they have enjoyed due process, have been tried and found by a jury, and then by an ordinance of judicial reason, they have received the death sentence. What follows from that would be rightly called “execution.” There has never been a newborn who fits this description. The normal word to use for killing an innocent human being is murder.
Journalists should facilitate public understanding of our disputes, not decide them. The story is not whether “execution” is an incendiary remark, but whether it is a true one. Why not report on the actual realities of our moral disputes?
If CNN wants to be “the most trusted name in news” it must stop playing double-speak lest it seem to be nothing more than Planned Parenthood’s in-house PR team.
C.C. Pecknold is an Associate Professor of Theology and Fellow of the Institute of Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America